You Know I’m No Good
by Jessie Ann Foley
Published by Quill Tree Books
Releasing on October 13th, 2020
TRIGGER WARNINGS—Sexual Assault, Suicidal Ideation, Drug and Alcohol Use, Self-Harm
From Printz Honor winner and William C. Morris Award finalist Jessie Ann Foley comes the story of one girl’s battle to define herself as something other than her reputation.
Mia is officially a Troubled Teen—she gets bad grades, drinks too much, and has probably gone too far with too many guys. But she doesn’t realize how out of control her parents think she is until they send her away to Red Oak Academy, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Minnesota.
While there, Mia starts confronting her painful past, and questions the purpose of Red Oak. After all, if the Red Oak girls were boys, they never would have been treated the way that they are. Amidst the revelations that cause her to question the way that society treats young women, circumstances outside of her control force Mia to discover what happens when she makes herself vulnerable enough to be truly seen by the rest of the world.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and You Know I’m No Good?
The seed for You Know I’m No Good was planted all the way back in 2007, when, for three days in a row, one of my freshman students didn’t show up to class. On the fourth day, I contacted our counseling office, where I learned that Penny* had been taken from her bed in the middle of the night and sent to a school for “troubled teens” in the remote Arizona desert.
Penny had grown up in a wealthy family on Chicago’s affluent North Shore, and I knew that her parents had high expectations for her success. She was hardworking and diligent, vulnerable and funny. She was also loud and unfiltered; always blurting her opinions in class, breaking dress code, gushing about her crushes—and the truth is, I adored her. She struck me as a freshman who was, like most freshman, still trying to figure herself out. None of her behaviors, at least during school hours, struck me as wildly out of the ordinary for a girl her age. I wondered, if Penny had been a boy, would she have faced the same consequences?
Over the past thirteen years, I started and stopped this novel many times. It required more research than any project I’d ever attempted, and of the more than dozen therapeutic boarding schools I approached to interview, only one agreed to speak with me, and only one more allowed me to visit. All further information had to be gleaned from reading articles and tracking down interviewees on social media.
I thought these obstacles, plus the intensity of the world-building the book required, were the reason why this book was, despite being my fourth novel, by far the most difficult to write.
I lied to myself until the very end.
Because when I completed the final draft, I closed my laptop, rested my head on my desk and cried. It was suddenly so obvious to me: the process of writing this book was so painful because all along, I wasn’t just writing about Penny: I was also writing about myself.
To paraphrase the great Joan Didion, we don’t think about something and then write it; we write it so that we can find out what we’re thinking. Didion was an essayist, but the same rule applies to fiction; perhaps even more so. With fiction, one can place a veil between the story and the truth; one can change the setting without changing the substance; one can write about the truth of one’s experiences without ever having to name them directly. By hiding inside the fictional characters and settings I’ve created, I can throw myself off the scent of my own pain.
I wrote You Know I’m No Good for the girls—and the boys—who need to hear its message and feel less alone. I wrote it for Penny. I wrote it for the friends I’ve lost. I wrote it for my three young daughters in the hope that its message will play a tiny part in changing things for the better for young women from one generation to the next. I wrote it for my younger self. I wrote it for every kid who’s been called “troubled,” and took this label as a life sentence, an inevitable marker of how things had to be. And because of this, I know one thing for sure: the tears and the darkness, the torn-up drafts and the thirteen years of circling closer and closer to what I needed, finally, to say: it was worth it.
I hope you’ll think so, too.
Are there any specific scenes in this book that you hold closer than others?
There’s a scene where Mia tries to downplay her pain by telling herself that all emotions are nothing more than chemical signals. Sorrow, grief, love—the whole spectrum of human emotion—none of it is real, none of it has meaning or heft; it’s just a bunch of neurons firing, which you can choose to obey or ignore, the way you would a traffic signal. I hold this scene close because Mia’s line of thinking is a strategy I’ve used in my own life.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.
What was a memorable experience you had while writing this book?
Getting to visit a therapeutic boarding school in person. I reached out to over a dozen; only one agreed to speak to me. These schools are very secretive places, and far less regulated than “regular” high schools. The one I visited was in an extremely remote part of northeastern Oklahoma. The staff was very gracious but allowed me little contact with the actual students. Being there, I had a terrible sense of claustrophobia. When I finally drove away from the campus, I felt acutely the great gift of my freedom, and my agency as an adult.
Which character was your favorite to write and why?
Vera, because she’s terribly intelligent but also deeply wounded. I liked her sophistication, and the way she used big words to mask her insecurities.
What was the difference in writing You Know I’m No Good compared to your previous books?
I love exploring the things I care about through fiction, and for that reason, all of my books are personal to some extent. But with You Know I’m No Good, I’ve compared the writing process to the final scene in Stranger Things season one when Will vomits up that slimy slug. Writing this book dredged up some very personal emotions about consent, anxiety, addiction—a whole bunch of things. It’s not autobiographical at all, but the truth of some of my own experiences is there on the page. In that sense, this book is closer to me than anything else I’ve written.
Are you currently working on anything, and if so, can you spill any details?
I just finished my very first Middle Grade manuscript! It’s the story of a seventh grade girl and her rocky relationship with her grandfather. The setting is contemporary, but it incorporates ancient Irish myths, and it takes place in the Gaeltacht, a region in western Ireland where native Irish is still spoken.
Was there a specific song that really helped you while drafting this book?
Lana Del Rey’s album Norman F***ing Rockwell, and of course, Amy Winehouse.
Lastly, what do you hope your readers will take away from You Know I’m No Good?
I was in the midst of writing this book when the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings occurred. Many of my friends and I had these visceral reactions to Kavanaugh’s entitled, arrogant behavior. It was so obvious to us that his rage stemmed from the fact that he genuinely believed Christine Blasey Ford was lying, that the sexual assault never happened. To us, it was obvious that of course it happened; he just didn’t remember it. Not even because he’d been drinking, but because it wasn’t an important enough event in his life to even form a memory. It’s frightening to me, how patriarchy and privilege can cause one person’s actions to destroy another’s adolescence while rating so little in their own consciousness so as to not even leave an impression. Something along these lines occurs in YOU KNOW I’M NO GOOD, which I hope will invite frank, honest, and nuanced conversations with young men and women about the nature of consent.
Jessie Ann Foley’s debut novel, The Carnival at Bray, was a Printz Honor Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book, a YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults title, and a William C. Morris Award finalist. Her second novel, Neighborhood Girls, was an ALA Booklist Editors’ Choice and a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults title. Sorry for Your Loss, her third novel, was an Illinois Reads selection. You Know I’m No Good is her fourth novel. Jessie lives with her husband and three daughters in Chicago, where she was born and raised. To learn more about Jessie, visit her online at www.jessieannfoley.com.
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